Last week, BNSF Railway announced their capital expenditure plans for 2017, and it looks like Washington will be receiving a very large share. Ranking third overall on the list, Washington is poised to obtain $175 million in investments from the company to improve and replace rail lines, signifying a strong commitment from the Fort Worth, TX based railroad.
This is understandable as railroads are a vital piece of Washington’s economy – significant renewed investments are needed and welcome. As of 2014, Freight rail made up 7.5% of Washington’s GDP and supported over 342,000 workers in the state. Furthermore, household incomes were $13.4 billion higher than they would be without the railroads.
Unfortunately, recent efforts at inhibiting rail expansion and operation in Washington by local governments and environmental groups are sending the wrong message to these important economic partners. Last year, the Spokane City Council unsuccessfully attempted to levy a tax on trains carrying oil and uncovered coal through the town, and continued efforts by environmental groups to block the proposed Vancouver Energy terminal at the Port of Vancouver, USA are jeopardizing a project that will invest millions into the local economy, including investments that will modernize and expand the rail system connecting this port to its customers.
BNSF’s announcement solidifies the clear notion that railroads are an important economic partner to Washington and should be treated as such. The railroads are poised to assist in growing our economy, but we must give them the regulatory breathing room to do so. These partners are willing to invest the money, if our state is willing to accept it. It’s a new year, and it’s time for local governments, environmental groups, and regulatory agencies to put down their weapons and allow the railroads to grow Washington’s economy as they so clearly are ready to do.